It’s 3am and my watch isn’t for another hour. But there’s a commotion on Delos and I’m grumbling to myself why people can’t be quieter.
Don’t they know I’m sleeping?
I then realise that there’s only one reason why the entire crew would be up at this moment.
I jump out of bed, pull on my clothes and dive into the darkness outside. Brian and Karin are in the cockpit and the rest of the crew are at the bow with Brady. I creep out and stare at the view ahead.
A black outline against an even blacker sky is ahead- an island alive with twinkling lights.
“We made it!” I exhale. “We’re here!”
As the island came closer, dolphins swam within the inky waters around us. It was like a marine escort as we neared the shores of the legendary island where Napoleon was exiled.
And all I could hope as I stared at the island was, “please let it be green!”
Being in Australia for five months, to then Africa for three months, I was starved for the colour, for the sensation of damp ground. I needed that feeling of freshness.
I couldn’t wait for dawn as I gazed up at the stars, blazing brightly as they ever did before. I stood there at the bow, clinging onto the rigging as we neared closer and closer, feeling a strange sensation wash over me.
I don’t know why I felt it, but I felt as though I was always supposed to come here. That this was always supposed to happen. Right here, in this moment. I didn’t know what was going to happen here or what I was going to achieve, but I just knew that this was going to be a very special part of the story.
We eventually found somewhere to anchor up next to some other boats and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.
“Well done, crew!” Brian said, a huge grin on his face. “Time for champagne I think!”
It was our first alcoholic beverage in nine days. It didn’t take us long to scramble for the bottle and glasses, Lisa even going the extra mile by putting frozen berries in them too.
We sat down in the cockpit, feeling a sensation of achievement, love and gratitude for what we had done and who we had done it with. I glanced at each one of my crew members, my heart full as we toasted to our journey, the champagne bubbling on my tongue as I took my first sip.
“Oh my God,” I gasped, my eyes watering. “That is soooo good!”
My sentiments were felt by all, and soon we had finished our toast. Exhausted, we returned to our cabins and bunks, the small thing of us all being able to go to bed at the same time felt by all.
Night watches were over.
I slept poorly that night, tossing and turning and having unpleasant dreams about the crew. We were lost, not on course and stuck on land in a place that none of us wanted to be. When I awoke I was relieved, finding us exactly in the place where we were meant to be.
Day had come.
I jumped out of my bunk and slid down the door to the cockpit, diving in with a grin on my face.
There before me lay the island of St Helena, waiting for us so patiently as the sun shone down on her. She was beautiful, an island with a valley in the centre where the old town was nestled within. At the very top of the cliffs I could see a fort, and further along, trees spreading out across the entirety of the island, their bright green a vivid contrast to the greys and blues of the South Atlantic sky.
I sat there for a while, drinking in the sights of the port, the boats around us, the gentle waves and the birds that flew around the cliffs.
“We’re finally here.”
It seemed that everyone had slept badly and nearly everyone had experienced bad dreams about the crew. We didn’t know what this meant, but we were all just relieved to be back in the reality where we were family, happy and safe.
After customs had been and gone, we eagerly set out in Maggie to head over to shore. Usually a ferry service came to pick up the people on the sailboats, but we liked our independence, the ability to not having to pay a £1 each time, and there was the small fact that the ferry stopped at 6:30pm. It’s hardly Delos style to be home each night bright and early now, is it?
It was a tricky landing, and we soon realised why people preferred to take the ferry service. A man volunteered to moor Maggie to his own boat of which we could drag the line into port so we could hop on. The waves were pretty boisterous so we couldn’t just fix her to any line directly to the quay else she would have gotten bashed up by the rocks.
Knowing we would have to swim out to her later, we went into Jamestown to see what she had to offer. Immediately we were surrounded by beautiful architecture from the 1700 and 1800’s, a huge brick archway lead the way into St Helena’s old town. People waved at us and said hello as we walked past, happy grins on their faces.
I immediately felt at home. The town was beautiful, a jumble of old architecture in perfect harmony with the plant life of the island. Gardens and trees grew everywhere, the air full of the scent of fresh flowers and damp earth.
St Helena boasted being one of the remotest places on earth, a volcanic island first discovered by the Portuguese in the 1500’s, taken over by the Dutch and then the English in the 1600’s. Figures such as Captain Cook and Captain Blithe would set foot here, and it would become under control by the infamous East India Company. Napoleon was exiled here after his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 and would stay on the island until his death, seven years later.
So much history in such a small place.
After getting our passports stamped for our visas to say we could stay, we decided to explore, stopping for an inevitable beer at a pub called Ann’s Place in the middle of the Castle Gardens. From the outside it looked like a gypsy pirate pub, shells and buoys hanging everywhere in sight, flowers growing in and out of the walls. But as we walked in and saw the flags from various countries hanging from the ceiling, it became evident that this pub had become a haven for other sailors from across the world.
After toasting again, my first rum in over a week slipped down my throat. The customs officer had told us about a couple of clubs in the area and I don’t know about everyone else, but I was pretty keen to try them out. It had been a long time since I had danced and let go- I think the last club I had gone to was in Luderitz.
Time to sample some St Helena tunes.
Deciding to explore for another hour to return to the same place, I bumped into Lisa on the street.
“Oh! Brady said if you buy some coke, he has…” She struggled with the right words for a moment and I stared at her in hope.
Please be rum, please be rum, please be rum!
“I will get it,” she assured me as she wracked her brain for the right words in English. “If you buy some coke he has…”
Rum, rum, rum-
I stared at her, waiting for the words, hoping for them-
Triumph washed over her expression. “He has a bottle of rum!”
I grinned. “Not a problem, mate.”
I practically skipped back to Ann’s Place to see Brady, Alex, Brian and Karin sitting on a bench in the castle garden sipping from coke cans.
“Want some?” Brian asked, offered me his can.
I frowned, my backpack already having some inside. I shrugged. Why not? Taking a swig, I spluttered, the taste of strong rum burning my throat.
“Whoa! I didn’t realise you had it in there!”
Brady held up a golden bottle of St Helena Rum in pride. “Want some?”
We sat on the bench together, surrounded by beauty as we swigged rum like we were teenagers. A local woman spotted us and laughed, no judgement in her eyes.
“Having a party are you?” she chuckled.
Lisa and Karin went off for a shower whilst the rest of us contented ourselves with contentedly sipping more rum and deciding what we should do with the rest of the evening. Returning to Maggie seemed pointless just to eat on Delos, to get ready and come back. We decided to stay where we were, eat at Ann’s Place and take the night as it came.
I love it when a plan comes together.
Brian and Brady made some friends with some local guys, and I couldn’t blame them. They had been stuck with four women for the past 9 days, it must have been nice to have some male company. As the locals cackled at every one of the boys’ jokes, the girls contented themselves with ordering food and sitting at the table with dignity and elegance-
Until some music started playing.
“Oh man, I love this song,” I said, standing up the exact same time as Alex. We danced in the middle of the pub together, only one other table taken up in the entire place as an older couple silently ate their meals.
We jumped up and down, the fact that we were in an empty bar not even occurring to us. Spending time with the Delos crew and travelling to the places we have been, I’ve learned a very special thing- if you feel like you want to do it, you should do it, regardless of what people think.
I wanted to dance, so I danced.
Heading to the bar, I opened a tab and sneakily ordered us a shot of rum each. Feeling it burn down our throats, we returned to find our dinner on the table.
Soon we were sitting altogether eating- except from Brady.
I knew he would regret it and told him so.
“Nah, I’m not hungry, mate,” he said in his usual cheery tone, his constant happy smile widening in reassurance.
“You should eat something, line your stomach,” I pushed.
But he refused and I shrugged, knowing that I couldn’t mother him. I always feel a constant need to make sure everyone is ok and know where everyone is. If one of the crew isn’t at the table, I’ll check where they are. It’s a bit of a running joke but I can’t really stop it. I know everyone are adults here, but maybe it doesn’t help having one person with an eye on everyone else.
Letting this one go, we decided it was time to explore this bar called Donnys.
Eyes were instantly on us as soon as we stepped in, the local guys staring at Alex, Karin and Lisa. The customs guys had told us that it was a very small island and to be aware that we would be very popular that night.
A man held up his ring finger in question to us and I stared back stupidly.
“Wha-? No I’m not married- Ooooooh.”
It finally clicked. He was asking if we were single.
I didn’t manage to tell him that I considered myself in a relationship with Delos and skipped off to dance.
The music was a huge surprise, dance tropicana and reggaeton blasted out of the speakers as the crew kicked off their sandals and span around the dance floor. We laughed, twisted and turned, whooped and busted out some rather dubious moves. We were fools, idiots and wannabe gangsters all at the same time.
But most of all, we were sailors who had been without land for a long time.
The crazy had to come out some way, hey?
We were intensely happy and the laughter didn’t seem to stop. We walked onto the next club and danced our hearts out there as well. I looked down at my feet and saw they were black. I smiled. I had missed that sight. I glanced at some of the women wearing heels around us and shook my head. That was me a year ago, dancing in heels in a club. I wiggled my toes and grinned. There was only one way to dance now. The sensation of each beat being stamped out barefoot was just one of the little things that made us feel alive.
Such a small thing that meant so much.
As we danced, the island towered above our heads to our left, right and behind, the sea stretching out before us. Small lights lined up to the very top of the island on a walk called “Jacob’s Ladder”- a stretch of 699 steps to the fort. The lights looked like a stairway to heaven against the black night sky. Delos waited for us below, the dark waters reflecting the bright moon and stars above.
Brian and I stared at it for a moment, glorifying in it.
“This place is perfect,” he said finally.
I nodded in agreement. It was.
We eventually left the club, and walked back down to the quay to collect Maggie. Brian and I were ahead and were already planning to jump into the water to collect Maggie. She was tied to the ferry as we would need to swim out, untie her and bring her to shore for the others to get in.
“It’s ok, Elizabeth,” Brian said, pulling off his shorts. “I’ll do it.”
“No!” I argued, pulling off my own. “We’re in this together. If you’re going in, I’m going in!”
“Er, excuse me?”
We looked up to see a man peering over at us from the steps. “You could just step onto my ferry and pull your boat to you…?”
“Nah, mate, that’s fine,” I said quickly, waving him off as my backside wiggled in the night air, trying in vain to release my left foot from my shorts.
“Yeah, we’ve got this, man,” Brian added.
“Honestly, it may be better…”
We listened to the man again and stared out into the blue crystal waters around us. I was hungry for those waters, hungry for the waves. But then realised that the man spoke perfect sense.
Pulling our shorts back over our arses, we did just as he suggested with as little hassle at all.
And neither of us got wet.
Once the crew was all on Maggie, we smiled as one as Delos came closer.
“Good work, team!” Brian announced to us all. “Now who’s up for some bacon?”
I laughed. “St Helena just gets better and better!”